Kitchener-Waterloo not yet prepared for light rail transit

The idea of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in Kitchener-Waterloo has been kicking around since 1999. It was exciting at first; sleek and sexy street cars that are going to magically solve the region’s long-standing traffic congestion issues, all the while reducing our carbon footprint and launching us further up the ranks of “model Canadian cities” for innovation and sustainability.

Now in 2010, as election time edges nearer, the ugly truth is starting to come out — most people don’t want the damn thing. Not the citizens, not most politicians. Not only do most people not seem to want it, but we also can’t afford it.

It was heralded as a “green light” when the feds and province of Ontario kicked in a combined $565 million for the $790 million project. Now let’s stop and ask ourselves: where is the other $200 million or so going to come from?

The taxpayers; to point out how bad this could really get, I offer you exhibit A: RIM Park. That debacle will be dropped on the tab of Waterloo residents for decades and that was a mere $145 million. Double that and you have a fiscal scenario similar to what LRT could become — minus the lawsuits, hopefully.

Looking at the schematics of the project, it seems like it will create more problems than it will solve.

Cambridge always seems to get the short end of the stick and Light Rail is no exception. The plan calls for Bus Rapid Transit from Cambridge to the starting point of the track at Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener. This won’t bode well for the region’s long track record of an uneasy relationship with the alienated city to the south.

Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig said, “This is a historic moment, but it depends on what side of the 401 you live on….What we really have is a Kitchener-Waterloo light rail plan,” in an interview with the Waterloo Region Record back in June 2009.

The argument for LRT maintains that the track, which would be located along the region’s busiest traffic corridor, would offer better access to independent, community businesses.

What doesn’t help this argument is that the entire system upon completion will be anchored by two shopping malls touting Old Navys and Banana Republics.

The members of regional council behind the project also maintain that LRT will be great for our region which is supposed to be growing at mind-blowing rates over the next 20 years. What doesn’t add up is that they want to move people north to south, meanwhile, most new expansion in the area is taking place in the east to west.

And finally, in this election, I have heard no word used by candidates more frequently than “leadership”. Yet the majority of mayoral candidates in this election are taking no pro-LRT leadership stance this time around.

Aside from incumbent Cambridge Mayor Craig, it’s off Cambridge’s radar.
All of Waterloo’s candidates have rejected the notion.

The only mayoral candidate on board is Kitchener’s current, and most likely future, mayor Carl Zehr.

Especially in Waterloo, it seems the LRT issue has become a campaign tool to pull in voters. Candidates seem to be going along with public opinion rather than standing by their own convictions. I might be more inclined to vote for a candidate who took a strong stance on LRT and backed it with a viable solution for financial solvency.

Given the current economic landscape of the province, combined with this region’s penchant for blundering large infrastructure projects makes me think that Waterloo Region (technically just Kitchener-Waterloo) isn’t quite ready for LRT.